Danish scientist Dr Jakob Nielsen, who has been applying eye tracking technology to improve web usability, has made a startling discovery about the way images are viewed online – “Some types of pictures are completely ignored. Other types of pictures are treated as important content and scrutinized. Photos of products and real people (as opposed to stock photos of models) often fall into this category.”
Dr Nielsen goes on to explain “It’s long been a guideline for presenting a company’s image online to include portraits of the executive team so that users associate real people with an otherwise faceless corporation” but adds the caution “The key point is that these are real people who actually work at the company. In contrast, users ignore stock photos of generic people”
This may sound familiar to anyone who has discussed the merits of commissioned photography versus stock images with a commercial photographer so it is interesting that Dr Nielsen’s research concurs with the advice imaging professionals have been giving their clients. Using eye-tracking infrared emitters placed around a computer monitor it has been possible to map the way web pages are browsed. The possibilities include a track of the viewer’s journey around a page as well as a hot-spot map which shows where the gaze has rested for longest. The image below is a clickable link to Dr Nielsen’s fascinating research, I would strongly recommend it as “must read” material for anyone using images online.